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Steelers Likely Moving to Zone Blocking Scheme Based on 2021 NFL Draft Selections

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are changing their schematics. As Mike Tomlin has alluded to multiple times over the week, they believe improving the running game goes beyond just personnel, but to schematics as well. The changes to those schematics from Randy Fichtner’s offense to Matt Canada’s offense are becoming much clearer.

The Steelers picked two linemen in third-round Illinois center Kendrick Green and fourth-round Texas A&M tackle Dan Moore Jr. during the draft Now, the common underlying factor about both of these players is their athleticism. Both have lots of experience in zone schemes and moving up to the second level in those zone schemes. It is clear that the Steelers are valuing movement skills and athleticism more than ever in their offense, which makes sense in a Canada schematic offense.

“We want to improve our run game and we want to get guys on our team that can thrive in what we’re going to do schematically, and we believe that both of those guys can do those things so they can perform at a high level because we’ve seen them do it already,” offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said of Green and Moore.

On top of this, the Steelers drafting of second-round Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth signals a potential switch with lots of split-zone runs. Often utilizing an H-Back, Canada’s scheme requires a solid blocking tight end who is versatile to work in the H-Back role. Freiermuth will play in-line as a true flexed-out F, and essentially all over the offensive formation. However, he has experience running those split zones runs from the H-Back alignment. Thus, it makes lots of sense that the Steelers would hop on that as a pick.

As for Najee Harris, there is not much to go over here. He is a schematically versatile running back who will be fine in any scheme. He ran both gap and zone concepts so it would seem that the Steelers like his fit as the diverse back to this attack. However, the overlying point is that it should be expected to see the Steelers move to a zone-running scheme.

Now, there may still be some traditional gap runs. Think of runs like duo or power in a Canada scheme that would work with these motions. However, Canada, in recent years as a college offensive coordinator, has run lots of split zone, mid zone, and inside zone. There is some wide zone in there as well but it is not the basis of his offensive attack. As such, it should be expected with help from Klemm and Chris Morgan, both of whom have lots of experience coaching zone-running schemes, that the Steelers are moving towards this scheme more so than their traditional power attack.

Green, Moore, Freiermuth, and Harris all fit this oriented attack plan. Morgan is from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree from his days back in Atlanta. The only question is how the Steelers’ remaining players will fit into this scheme. David DeCastro, Zach Banner, and Kevin Dotson all feel like gap players more so than zone. DeCastro and Dotson can probably survive. But Banner is a question mark.

In moving from a gap scheme, the Steelers may be limited slightly by their inability to run a lot of wide zones. Again, however, that is not the basis of a Canada zone-running scheme. So, overall, this makes a lot of sense for the Steelers to begin their running scheme overhaul with, and they drafted personnel who fit it like a glove.

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